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Don't go out on your own, PSNI warns women after Belfast attacks

Call for vigilance as knife-wielding attacker wounds three and punches two more in 80-minute rampage


Horror: Police at the scene of a stabbing in the Donegall Square West area of Belfast

Horror: Police at the scene of a stabbing in the Donegall Square West area of Belfast

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Horror: Police at the scene of a stabbing in the Donegall Square West area of Belfast

Women in Belfast have been warned to stay alert amid fears that a knife-wielding masked man - who targeted five young females while cycling across the city in 80 minutes of terror - may strike again.

Three women, aged between 19 and 22, sustained wounds to the neck, arm and back of their legs, while two others were punched in the head, in separate attacks on Monday evening.

A senior police officer has urged women not to go out alone at night.

Detectives are trawling CCTV for clues on the attacker.

The first stabbing happened on Ormeau Avenue at around 8.10pm with a second reported at 8.45pm in Donegall Square West

A woman was punched in the head on Dublin Road at 8.55pm, and a second punched in the neck while walking along Dunluce Avenue at about 9pm.

The fifth attack - and third stabbing incident ­- took place in University Road around 9.30pm.

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The victims received medical treatment. However, the PSNI said their injuries were not life-threatening. Robbery is not believed to have been a motive, police said.

Some of the victims were accompanied by friends.

The suspect was riding a mountain bike and may have been wearing a black face mask, police revealed. He used a small but sharp knife.

The three stabbed women were taken to hospital for treatment but have since been discharged.

PSNI Chief Superintendent Simon Walls on Tuesday warned women to be aware while out and about ­- particularly at night.

He said officers have increased patrols in the area in response to the spate of attacks.

In a direct message to women, Mr Walls said: "If you are going out, try to be with a friend or in groups. Just be vigilant, know where you are.

"Police are taking this investigation incredibly seriously. We accept the fear that this type of attack causes. We wish to say that incidents like this in Belfast and across Northern Ireland are indeed rare."

Students and residents in south Belfast told this newspaper that they fear the perpetrator may attack again if not caught.

One woman, aged 19, who attends Queen's University and lives close to where the University Road incident took place, said she was now afraid to be out at night by herself.

"It's scary the fact it was all women... It would put you off going out by yourself at the moment," she said.

Another resident said she would remain fearful for her safety until the attacker was arrested by police.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, a South Belfast representative, said it was very concerning that the attacker has yet to be apprehended.

"I was extremely shocked to hear about this incident in south Belfast and my thoughts are with all who have been affected," she said.

"In an area with a large student population, it is extremely concerning that this person has not yet been apprehended.

"And I would urge everyone, especially women, to take extra caution and be vigilant until the person behind these attacks has been caught."

South Belfast MP Claire Hanna said her constituents are on high alert following the attacks.

"It's terrifying. There's so many people in those areas for work and going out," the SDLP representative said.

"People are really anxious. Just even in my office team there are those living in and around those areas.

"It wasn't even the wee small hours. It was during the evening at a time when people wouldn't think twice about being out and about."

Ms Hanna said local people have been left "really disturbed" by the incidents.

"Understandably people will be really, really worried being out and about, particularly as the nights are becoming darker," she continued.

"Anybody who was in the areas, or has any information, obviously should come forward. Obviously the best way to ease people's fears is to have this person apprehended.

"There is this societal problem with attacks on women, so people need to be aware more of their personal security."

Sinn Fein councillor John Gormley, who represents the Botanic area, voiced his alarm at the "horrific" attacks.

"I am relieved to learn that none of the injuries sustained in the attacks are life threatening but what happened will no doubt have been traumatising for the victims and I wish them a speedy recovery," he said.

Mr Gormley warned the perpetrator must be brought to justice, and appealed to anyone with information to contact the PSNI.

"Women must be free to live their lives without fear of such attacks," he added.

Mr Walls, meanwhile, insisted the PSNI is "doing everything we can to arrest this man", revealing CCTV is currently being examined.

The police chief also urged drivers who were in the vicinity at the time of the attacks to look at dashcam footage.

"I would encourage anyone who may have witnessed any of these incidents to contact police at Lisburn Road on the non-emergency number 101 or submit a report online using our non-emergency reporting form via http://www.psni.police.uk/makeareport/.

"You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at http://crimestoppers-uk.org/."

Concern has been raised in recent weeks around increasing levels of knife crime in Belfast.

In an unrelated incident last month, a man was stabbed in broad daylight at Castle Street.

Latest PSNI statistics show a total of 741 offences involving a knife or a sharp instrument in the 12 months to June this year.

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